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Sweet memories made proving once again why football’s special

meet n greet 135
By Harry Walsh

MORE than twenty four years have passed since I snagged my first job in journalism as a sports reporter.

Fans with typewriters is what we used to be called: sportswriters who had a passion for their job and a certain flair with a portable typewriter.

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Working alongside talented and experienced colleagues I soon learned to report, write and hustle for stories to scoop the opposition but, more importantly, being a reporter for a local newspaper, it gave me a heightened sense of what it is to be a member of the community.

I was reminded of all that is good about that unique community spirit at the Donegal ‘meet and greet’ Open Day in MacCumhaill Park last Saturday.

Ahead of the historic All-Ireland final meeting with Kerry, both a minor and senior level, on Sunday, September 21, I left the note-book to one side and took on the role of dad, accompanying my youngest son Paul (12) who is pictured above with Neil McGee and Paddy McGrath.

While I’ve been lucky enough to have met and interviewed Donegal team manager Jim McGuinness, team captain Michael Murphy and other members of the Donegal squad on numerous occasions over the past four years, this was new territory for Paul.

And what better role models could a young boy get? The Donegal players and management represent the county with skill, commitment and pride and isn’t that what we would all want to see in a son or daughter?

As we drove towards Ballybofey I explained how Jim and his backroom team have the ability to improve the skills of the athletes under their charge, pointing to the fact that they’re in a second All-Ireland final in thee years.

As a father of three children, I’ve found it very rewarding over the past decade and more to follow their fortunes and observe their triumphs and failures.

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Sports fans are so focused on winning, yet as I’ve grown older I find myself appreciating more and more the efforts made on the field by the young women and men I see competing. Winning or losing has become a secondary issue to me – well almost!

As an avid Ardara supporter, Paul has followed and rooted for his favourite player Paddy McGrath and it’s the corner back, Michael Murphy, Frank McGlynn and Karl Lacey who are on his ‘hit-list’.

Having been directed to the main stand at MacCumhaill Park, it isn’t long before the children are allowed onto the hallowed turf and asked to form two lines inside fifteen separate pens awaiting their heroes.

Paul selects the third pen in from the half-way line and waits patiently for the players to emerge from under the tunnel.

Imagine his surprise, and delight, when Gaoth Dobhair’s Neil McGee and Ardara’s Paddy McGrath sit down at the table in front of him. To make things even better Paddy addresses both of us by name.

“I can’t believe he knew both our names – that’s class,” Paul says.

With autographs secured from both defenders, he’s then off in search of captain ‘Murphy’.

“There was a forty minute queue but it was well worth it dad,” he offers.

Thereafter he queues in line for a number of other players, including Frank McGlynn who says “not another Ardara man” on noticing his Ardara GAA club track-suit top before offering a smile and few words of advice.

“There were four girls behind me who I think are in love with Ryan McHugh. They each had jerseys for him to sign and were so excited,” he giggled.

Armed with eight or nine signatures, both on his Donegal jersey and in an autograph book, Paul then decides that it’s been a good day’s work and it’s time for home.

As we walk across the pitch, minor manager Declan Bonner stops to say hello and offer a few words of advice to Paul before he notices Kilcar’s Stephen McBrearty standing a few feet away.

Paul’s mum is from Kilcar and they’re his second favourite team although I’m reliably informed by the powers that be in both the Ardara and Kilcar parishes that that will change as he grows a little bit older!

Again, Stephen asks him about football and wonders where his older brother Danny (15) is. On hearing that he’s away to a blitz in Owenbeg, Derry, with the Donegal Development (South) U15 squad his eyes light up and he talks enthusiastically about his own progression through the system.

“Who knows. Hopefully he’ll be standing here at something similar in the future,” he says.

Wouldn’t that be nice, I think, before reaffirming something I already knew – this is a wonderful place to live.

I intend to continue to write about the fortunes of the Donegal GAA team for years to come. And, if the opportunity arises, perhaps my work can include the names of few new Walsh’s to follow Gary, David and Declan in the not too distant future.
We’re all allowed to dream aren’t we?

In the meantime, as a dad, I would like to express a heartfelt thanks to each and every member of the Donegal panel who helped to make Saturday, September 6, 2014, a special day for one proud 12-year-old Ardara boy.

Hopefully, your rewards will come in the shape of another All-Ireland title later this month.

Paddy McGrath is determined to put his cruciate ligament woes behind him as quickly as possible.

County Board now searching for a replacement.

The Raphoe lads have impressed in front of goal this season as they notched up a 5-4 winning score-line...

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